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Poultry, a Practical Guide. Hugh Piper, 1877.

7 Facts About Turkeys

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Poultry, a Practical Guide. Hugh Piper, 1877.

Gobble gobble gobble! Whether you’re from the U.S. or abroad, you’re probably going to hear a lot about turkeys in the next few days. Here are some facts about them that you can drop during Thanksgiving dinner!

1. First off…they’re not so dumb they drown in the rain. Turkeys aren't the smartest animals, but assuming they’re “curious” about the rain is being extremely anthropomorphic—“stupid” animals react out of instinct, not curiosity. When turkeys die during storms, it’s normally because they’ve been spooked by lightning or thunder and have panicked themselves to death.

2. Eating turkey doesn’t make you drowsy. Thanks for the urban legend, Seinfeld. You know why you get drowsy after eating Thanksgiving dinner? You just ate three days worth of carbohydrates, and your intestines need all of your blood just to handle moving it through your system! Until your food gets to your small intestine to be processed, you’re gonna be drowsy.

3. Turkeys, though often associated with chickens, are much more closely related to wild pheasants and grouse. Wild turkeys are native to the Americas, just like prairie chickens and grouse. The bird that domestic chickens derive from, the Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus), is native to the jungles of Southeast Asia.

4. Wild turkeys are actually decent flyers! Even the big, decked-out males in mating season can fly reasonably well. They don’t have much in the way of stamina (generally with a range of just over a mile at a time), but they can easily cross rivers, escape predators, and reach roosts high up in trees. Their flight can reach up to 55 mph when they’re escaping.

5. Yes, the English name of the bird and the name of the country are related. Though wild turkeys are native only to the Americas, their introduction to the British would have been from Spanish trade ships selling their wares in the Levant (an area including Turkey, Palestine, the Sinai, and other British holdings and allies in the Near East). The association with Turkey gave them their common name in English.

6. Domestic turkeys (of the large commercial variety) have been bred in such a way that their giant breasts make them literally too big to mate on their own, and as such have been artificially inseminated for decades.

7. The fleshy drape over the male turkey’s beak is called a snood, and the flesh on his neck is called a wattle. The bit of hair-like projections hanging down right below the wattle is his beard. Around the bottom of the wattle there are often fleshy bulbs that are harder and more prominent than the rest of the structure, when the turkey is not strutting or mating. Those are the major caruncles (from Latin caruncula, meaning “wart”). Females have a wattle and caruncles, but do not have a snood or beard.

This post originally appeared on Biomedical Ephemera.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]